Science in Christian Perspective
A Model for our Time
On Man's Creativity
JOHN C. RICHARDS
53 Atherton Ave. Atherton, California 94025
From: JASA 23 (June 1971): 48-51.
It is shown logically that belief is a necessary initial condition for scientific thought. Our beliefs modify what information we receive and hose we receive it. This paper postulates a second mode of the human thought process which parallels the familiar conscious thought process. It is based on a wealth of subjective data and an increasing amount of objective data. It explains how popular biases in our present culture have kept this mode hidden. The two modes are described in terms of general semantics and the role they play in man's creative process is presented.
The professional skepticism of the scientist can limit his professional progress. The Christian with his experience in the practice of faith as well as his belief in Christ can make a unique contribution. He can give scientific beliefs the dispassionate scrutiny they need and he can reexamine scripture for the insights it can give into the processes of nature-not just human nature.
A New Beginning
It is not uncommon for the Christian in science to ask, "How can I demonstrate that my faith and my vocation are not incompatible?" But perhaps this is the wrong question. It suggests that the two, while not in conflict, are at least compartmentalized. Surely the Way demands that all of one's actions, including vocation, spring from one's faith. Should not the scientist aim higher and ask, "How can I contribute to science specifically because I am a Christian?" To answer calls for a new approach; epistemologically we need to go hack and start over.
But where to start? I believe we need to go hack to where science first went its separate course, hack to Descartes. In the Middle Ages the whole field of reality was often regarded as beyond the appreciation of man, and supernatural revelation was the center of all thought. With the Cartesian revolution the scientist turned his back on revelation and tended professionally to divorce himself from God.
Philosophically, Descartes started with his famous axiom "Cogito ergo sum" But "thinking" is a complex process. Let us break it down a bit. In today's vernacular it might well be expressed, "I am aware; therefore I exist." (The very statement implies self-awareness, and thereby, conscious thought.) Newborn babes and sentient creatures less than man are also aware and exist, in the homeostatic sense, but they are not aware of their awareness and are incapable of making this statement. Such a statement is incomplete; we must recognize that it is an axiom, a belief. It demands another clause. ". . . and I believe; therefore I live." To live is to create, to modify nature beyond oneself.
When we say, "I am aware and I believe; therefore I live," we accomplish two things. First we open the door for the Christian formally to include his faith as an integral part of his work. We officially recognize that both awareness and faith are necessary initial conditions for man to be creative. We affirm that we are indeed made in His image, even though man's creativity is but a modified reflection of part of what God offers us. Second, we highlight the areas which need the scientist's attention.
We need to examine both our beliefs about our awareness and our awareness of our beliefs. Each of us finds himself in the center of, and part of, a continuum hounded by infinity-the unknowable. What each of us regards as unknowable (not merely unknown) shapes not only the periphery of our universe, and indeed its characteristics, but, more importantly the way we receive information about it, i.e., become conscious of it. This is just as true of what we believe we do know. Thus, our beliefs shape our perceptions, the very stuff with which we must start if we are to be creative. We need a fresh and simultaneous look at the boundary conditions, both the center and periphery of our universes-and much in between.
One Approach to the Problem
One approach to the problem is to recognize two things. Not only is there knowledge available to man which falls outside the domain of present clay science, but apparently man's method of receiving it is different from the accepted methods of science. The stigma attached to others who have recognized this presents the modern scientist with a dilemma. There is need to steer a course between the Scylla of the medieval mystic and the Charybdis of the modern exponent of psychedelic drugs-but there is value to science in sounding the calm waters between. The value lies in an understanding of the process rather than in a use of the methods.
There seem to be two distinct but interrelated modes by which man receives and processes information. The first, one might call the focused mode, and the second, the non-focused mode or the awareness. At present our formal methods are related almost exclusively to the focused mode. As a rough analogy, the focused mode compares with photography, and the awareness with holography. Both abstract information from the continuum, but differently. The former, being focused, deals with one area at a time, is of higher order (less information) and is always conscious. The latter (awareness) is non-focused, holistic, of lower order, and largely subconscious. All of the information which the focused mode accepts is also available to the awareness, and much more. The additional information available only to the focused mode is its consciousness of at least part of the awareness.
There has been some research which tends to substantiate that the brain 1) uses holographic methods to receive and process information and 2) bypasses the higher brain centers to do it. For instance, some studies by Pribram on memory1 suggest this, and findings of Trevarthen and Sperry at Cal Tech2 of a second human optic system could be explained by a holographic process. In their study, brain surgery separating the left and right hemispheres leaves both the usual visual system and the newly discovered one functioning but affects them differently. "Perception in the classical system becomes divided into right and left fields of vision, but perception in the newly found system remains unified-with left and right hand vision in each hemisphere." There is also recent evidence that the brain receives and responds to stimuli not consciously perceived .3,4
There is beginning to be enough objective data available now for this subject to assume some aura of respectability. There is however, a wealth of subjective data from which this search for objective data stems. Modern science's concern for objectivity has made it the custom to present available data first and follow them with an hypothesis as a conclusion drawn from the data, or at least to present theory and supporting objective data simultaneously. This obeisance to objectivity and formal conscious logic tends to mask a fact which needs more careful scrutiny. The actual process which more usually occurs is to have a "flash of insight", form an hypothesis, and seek data to test it. For instance, Pribram's interest in photography and holography led him to look for holographic processes in the brain.' We need a dispassionate, if not objective, look at what the process of "insight" is.
We need to examine both our beliefs about our awareness, and our awareness of our beliefs.
Limitations of Objectivity
The value of objectivity to science is well established; it should not be denied or discarded. However, the very success of objectivity as a part of the scientific method has hidden its limitations. Objectivity is but one of many man-made concepts for coping with change. None of them is more than an abstraction of reality, and therefore less than the full reality, indeed often a poor model. Since it is an abstraction by the observer it is not independent of the observer.
Some ideas from the non-Aristotelian discipline of general semantics may provide a helpful framework to explore this process of abstracting, both as it relates to objectivity and to the initial steps in man's creative process. At some time or other, most of us have wondered what there is in common between the world around us and the thoughts inside our heads about this world. Let us use a man's pen as an example of part of this world. Surely the man's thoughts about his pen are not the pen itself, and yet equally obviously, there is something common to both. The common denominator is structure; the link between the two is his nervous system, including his brain. It too is similar in structure to both the pen and his thoughts about the pen. To explain further, science tells us that the pen, at a subatomic level, is an aggregate of unique, transitory events, involving protons, orbiting electrons, neutrons, etc. The man is blissfully unaware of all this because his gross nervous system through eye and finger has abstracted (selected) some of the more invariant relationships among all these teeming events, passed this structure on to his brain-and left out everything else. The vehicle for these sensations, the material with which his nervous system is made, is certainly different from the pen, but there are now relationships between some of its parts which are similar to some relationships between the parts of the pen; their structure is similar. His consciousness of the pen is still at a sub-verbal level, what Korzybski calls the "unspeakable" level.6 As soon as he gives it a label (symbol) he has abstracted even further, retaining only part of the relationships which his eyes and fingers noted, and has identified these with the verbal sounds of "my ballpoint pen". It is this discontinuity in the abstracting process-this making one set of sensations (the feel and look of the pen) "equal" to another set of sensations (the sound of "my ballpoint pen")-which separates man's thought processes from the lower animals. Humans then are able to continue this process of abstracting to indefinitely high levels, for instance, "my ballpoint pen", "ballpoint pen", "pen", "writing implement", "recording device", "artifact", etc. These are each symbols at successively higher levels of abstraction. They stand for successively smaller groups of relationships abstracted from successively larger classes of objects. A statement about any one of these is again a higher order abstraction, and still higher is a statement about the statement, etc. These statements, in effect, manipulate the symbols.
We need constantly to remember that the filter of our nervous system already has us removed from the
There seem to he two distinct but interrelated modes by which man receives and processes information: the focused mode, and the non-focused mode or the awareness.
full external reality whenever we observe, and removed farther still when we label an observation and then deal with the labels. It is Korzyhski's thesis that most of man'sinsane behavior stems from confusing these different orders of abstractions, from equating different steps of what has been called the abstraction ladder. While our thoughts or feelings about the pen have as much reality for us individually as our observation of the pen, they too stem from more complex events, this time inside our skins.
Application to Focused Mode and Awareness
The initial step of abstracting from the continuum applies both to the focused mode and to the awareness. The latter would appear to get lower order information-information which is less invarient and thereby closer to reality but harder to cope with. The awareness mode also continues up the abstraction ladder. It too sets its objects "equal to" symbols and then manipulates the symbols, but there are important differences. The most important one is that we have complete control over the focused mode and only the right of refusal over the awareness, i.e., the ability to limit how much of it shall become conscious. To avail ourselves of it we must act in faith that we will not be hurt and relinquish the self control we cherish. Phrases such as "empty ourselves", "lose ourselves", "let go and let God" suggest that Christians are not unfamiliar with this process, at least in their spiritual life.
Another difference between the modes in their use of the abstraction process is that they often set their objects "equal to" different symbols. Dreams and visions are good examples of this process in action. Dream interpretation, for instance, is the translation of awareness mode symbols into focused mode symbols. The reason we have so few visions or remember so few dreams in modern society is simply that we are not willing to relinquish our apparent control of ourselves. They are perfectly natural processes, neither abnormal nor supernatural. With the exponentially increasing evidence all about us of man's ability to control, modify and expand his world, it is scarcely surprising that our faith in ourselves (in our self-controlled minds) should increase. It is understandable, but dangerous, because this is the area where we play God if we are not careful.
The Creative Process
Let me relate the creative process to the abstraction ladder and give some examples of how we abuse the process. Man's creativity is obviously not "ex nthilo"; it starts as an abstraction from what God has made available to us. We then label, abstract further, manipulate these abstractions and devise from them an idea, plan, concept, theory, etc. This must then be brought hack down the abstraction ladder and be illuminated by reality. If the first approximation is an inadequate match with reality, the process is repeated and the model refined. This iterative process of reconciliation continues until the author is satisfied. This "creation" is not complete until it gets out of the author's mind and into the continuum surrounding him. We cause problems when we confuse the higher abstractions with the lower, when we deny the process of reconciliation. We have a tendency to "create" an abstraction, declare it good, and try to stop there. We try to equate it with lower order realityto give it an "allness" that it does not have. This tendency to play God has a vast gamut of guises, from blatant to very subtle. A few pertinent examples may he helpful.
One example is that of the physical scientist who finds objective information of such value in science that he tries to make it the only information by denying the validity of any other kind. This is not unlike blindfolding one eye. It limits the field of vision and also eliminates all the advantages of the two functioning together. In the unexplored infinity around us, our research, and therefore our discoveries, is largely limited to those areas which we have permitted to catch our attention.
Another example is the intellectual who so delights in the powers and pleasures of the conscious thought process (the focused mode) that he makes it "all" and denies the existence of any other, especially any over which he does not have complete control.
A third example is the Christian who finds the idea that "God is a person" good and satisfying, and tries to protect the idea by denying that God is anything else. God is no less a person for being process also. "The Way, the Truth and the Life" are answers to "how" and "what", not "who", The Way is not limited to social behavior. "How" and "what" are clearly the domain of the physical scientist also.
Scripture tells us that the process of reconciliation is an important characteristic of the Way. This process has not received the explicit attention it merits in any field save social behavior. It is relevant at once to the physical world about us, to our nervous system and to our thought processes. This is so because reconciliation is a process common to all self-organizing systems. One of its characteristics is selecting only the parts which have value for higher order and discarding everything else. To determine what has such value requires comparison of the selected parts (our model) with the best evidence available to us of the highest order, the reality about us. Our models are not unlike the first term in a converging series. We need the process of reconciliation to complete the series.
With reconciliation an integral part of our vital processes we are compatible with such processes and are equipped by nature (God) to detect and understand them. Two such physical processes which come to mind are impedance matching and various types of entrainment of nonlinear systems. Both help us understand and cope with nature. There are undoubtedly many more.
The Christian would do well to look to Scripture for other insights which will help his investigations in all fields of science. For instance, it is no accident that Christ used parables and analogies to teach men. They are entirely compatible with the abstraction process of setting something "equal to" something very different. Also there are many verses which we might reexamine-this time from the point of view of process. For instance, one which may be relevant to this discussion is Mark 10:15 "Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." This is generally interpreted to mean a childlike trust. But what does the trusting child actually do which is different from the behavior of the guarded adult? Is it not possible, in the language of this paper, that he is using his awareness mode to receive?
At the same time science would benefit by a fresh look at some of the ideas which have served it so faithfully. For instance, much of modern science is built on our concepts of mass and time. We tend to forget, even to deny, that both are manmade abstractions to help us cope with change. Neither is directly observable. They are useful fictions whose usefulness may indeed be limited at the present frontiers of science. Creative revolutions in thought occur only when we specifically recognize our limitations and look actively in new directions.
They also would be more likely to occur if we understood the process of being creative and practiced its skills. The ideas in this paper on two modes for receiving and handling information are an effort to understand this process. The model is rough and incomplete; it says little about the interaction between the modes. I would like to think of it as the first term in a converging series. Yet even if the series turns out to be divergent and must be discarded, I hope this model will stimulate fruitful discussion in an area which needs much attention.
A New Revolution
Mankind is at the portals of a new intellectual revolution based on science. Each such revolution in the past, Copernican, Darwinian, and Freudian alike, has attacked man's model of himself. Each time his
What does the trusting child actually do which is different from the behavior of the guarded adult? Is it not possible that he is using his awareness mode to receive?
picture of his own preeminence, or of his control has been diminished. However,
once reconciled with each fresh and humbling insight, man has been able to move
forward. We are on the threshold of including subjective experience
in the family
of respectable science. Not only will it become a reputable science in itself,
but it will contribute greatly to the physical as well as social
sciences of today.
It will have many characteristics,7 but the most revolutionary, as
be those which diminish our image of ourselves. The revolutionary thought this
time is that we have no choice but to start with faith. What we may choose is
whether we will start with faith in ourselves or faith in Christ. The
role in this revolution is obvious.
1Scientific American, Vol. 220, No. 1 p. 73, Jan. 1969
2Scientific Research, Sept. 1, 1969 p. 13 "Second Human Optic System Found."
3New Scientist. Jan. 4, 1968 p 38 Feeling."
4Science, Vol. 158 p. 1597
5Scientific American, Vol. 220, No. 1 p. 18, Jan. 1969 "The Authors."
6Alfred Korzyhski, Science and Sanity, The International NonAristotelian Library Publishing Company, The Science Press Printing Co., Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
7Stan ford Today, Winter 1969, p. 8 "The New Copernican Revolution, W. W. Harman. See also pp. 42-47 of this issue of the Journal ASA.